An Introduction to Research & Documentation
By Euriol of Lothian, O.L., O.P.
Please don’t run away! I know that Research & Documentation may scare many of you. No need to fear, I know it is a bit frightening… like a young child coming face to face with a junkyard dog. But if you give me a chance, perhaps we might be able to make this journey less intimidating and more enjoyable. Believe me, this dog will not bite.
Take a deep breath. You alright? Ready to take your first step? No need to worry, I’m here beside you to help you on your way.
I cannot recall how many times I might see something and think to myself “That is so amazing, I wish I could learn how to….”. We are very fortunate in the current modern age that we have so much information at our disposal. Sometimes it is too much information, and we don’t know where to start. The purpose of this article is to offer guidelines, suggestions really, on where you might start your own research journey and how to document it to a desired audience (e.g. classroom notes, newsletter articles, competition documentation for judges).
Research vs. Documentation
What is the difference between Research and Documentation? Research is the investigation of a subject to discover or revise information on the subject. Documentation is an artifact that is derived from the research. Research can include looking at primary, secondary and tertiary sources of information including expert analysis and opinion as well as practical hands-on experience. Examples of research may include the following:
- Online articles and pictures
- Personal attempt to create an item that is the subject of your research
- Books, Magazines and Periodicals (Printed and Online)
- Viewing a painting contemporary to the time period of an item (secondary source)
- Archaeological notes from a university publication (expert analysis & opinion)
- Examining an item on display at a museum (primary source)
Many of us are not fortunate to have access to many primary & secondary sources of information, but most of us have access to online articles and pictures as well as our own personal experience in attempting to create an item.
How far you go with your research is completely a personal choice, but sometimes when you start following the breadcrumbs of information, you might not anticipate where that journey might lead you.
Now that we have made the decision to start researching a subject, where to begin? There are several starting points at your disposal.
Do you recall where you first heard or saw something about the subject you want to research? Perhaps it was at a class? Perhaps you saw someone wearing or working with the subject? Go to these individuals, and strike up a conversation about the subject. I can tell you that people really do enjoy talking about subjects that are of interest to them. Ask them if they have any information of how you can learn more about the subject and get their contact information.
Perhaps the subject was something you learned about while watching a TV show, movie, or some other video. Perhaps it was an article online or in a magazine.
You had to learn about the existence of the subject somewhere; if you can. make a note of where you first learned about it.
Additional starting points may be:
- Search engine (i.e. Google)
- Online Communities for the Subject (i.e. Facebook or Email Groups)
- SCA Arts & Sciences Websites
- Personal websites by Amateur Scholars
As you begin your research you also want to make sure you are keeping some sort of notes of your research. These notes are to help you keep a record of the sources you investigated and the information you learned from these sources. Pick a method of keeping notes that is most comfortable for you. Some methods that may be used are:
- A blog or personal website
- A notebook or journal
- An electronic notepad (Word Document, One Note)
- Idea board (Pinterest)
- Email folder
Below are some samples of a note entries:
|Title||Harvest of the Cold Months|
|Ice was used to cool wine in Italy during the 16th century.|
|Title||The Garden of St. Francis|
|The garden was specifically embellished with an inner sanctum – a smaller garden – meant to hold a flower-garden, uniquely kept to provide olfactory and visual pleasures|
|Title||How to Crack Honey without Thermometer|
|Date||June 14, 2017|
|I was finally able to get the honey to get hot enough that in cracked like peanut brittle when the nucato was cooled. You will get a whiff of smoke as the honey is boiling, and then immediately take it off the heat. Reminder, not to put the nuts nor spices into the honey while it is being heated, otherwise the spices and nuts will burn.|
Documentation can be as simple as taking all your notes and putting them together in a manner that is directed for a specific audience. There are several different types of documentation you can create based on your research. Examples of documentation can include the following:
- An article for a newsletter or a blog
- Class notes
- How-to guide
- An article for a magazine
- A periodical issue
- Documentation for a competition
Knowing your audience can help you determine the type of documentation to create. There are templates available for creating documentation. I also suggest having someone not knowledgeable in the subject matter review your documentation so anything that might not be clear can be identified and addressed.
Some of the details you might consider discussing in your documentation are as follows:
- Introduce the reader to the subject and set their expectations for what they might gain or learn from the document
- What about this subject has inspired you to research it?
- Historical background
- Tell the reader about the subject and how it relates in context to a time period or through several time periods
- Materials, Processes, Tools & Techniques
- If the subject is an item that can be crafted, discuss the materials, processes, tools and techniques used to make the item.
- Discuss any differences between historical practices and how you made the item.
- Supporting your Research
- For further information – Give the reader information on where they could learn more, this could include your contact information.
- Footnotes or Endnotes – Give credit where credit is due by supporting what you have learned by where you learned it from.
- Bibliography – Now you have all your notes, you can create a bibliography based on all the information you have gather.
Thank you for taking the time to let me guide you on these first steps to Research and Documentation. I have only scratched the surface on these topics. Hopefully it is not as scary as it was once before. If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For your convenience, I have many links on various articles on research and documentation on my website at: